SURABAYA • Newly minted East Java deputy governor Emil Dardak may be among the youngest of those who succeeded in Indonesia’s recent regional polls but he is no political rookie.
In just three years as regent of Trenggalek, the 34-year-old has improved its health services and access to remote areas, as well as turned the sleepy town into a tourist destination for those seeking to go off the beaten track.
He is a rising star in Golkar, Indonesia’s second-largest party, which is part of the ruling coalition behind President Joko Widodo’s re-election bid.
Dr Emil, a former student of Singapore’s Raffles Institution, told The Straits Times that he was inspired to enter politics by a new breed of Indonesian leaders, such as Mr Joko himself and West Java governor Ridwan Kamil. They transformed politics into “a cool thing to do” for Indonesian youth, he said.
“It’s seen as something inspiring,” he added.
Dr Emil, who at 22 earned a doctorate from Japan’s Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, abandoned a promising and lucrative career in finance to enter politics in 2015.
Although born in Jakarta, he ran and won the election in Trenggalek, where his grandfather, Mr Mochamad Dardak, was a prominent cleric.
Public service, however, is not something new to Dr Emil; as a child, he would spend weekends visiting road projects with his father, Dr Hermanto Dardak, a civil servant who later became public affairs deputy minister from 2010 to 2014.
Dr Emil, who is married to model and actress Arumi Bachsin, enjoys music and had once fancied himself a crooner.
The father of two even had a hit song in Sesaat Kau Hadir, or The Moment You Appeared, on Indonesia’s radio charts.
Dr Emil said the curiosity shown by young Indonesians about local politics in recent years is “a good sign” as it draws more of them to “care for the nation”.
With his professional background, knowledge of development economics and leadership, Dr Emil said he is ready to shape the future of East Java, the country’s second-most populous province.
For now, he sees the need to shift East Java’s economic base from agriculture to industry, given the limited amount of existing arable land for farming.
But he also wants to pay attention to external forces, such as Industry 4.0 – the revolution triggered by digital manufacturing technologies – and trade protectionism, which may affect the country’s transition from agriculture to industry.
“So, we need to be ahead of the curve, at least within the country, but maybe even within the region,” he said.
Some of his plans include diversifying the local manufacturing industry, boosting exports and upgrading labour skills through education, like vocational training in specific fields, such as tourism, shipbuilding and food processing.
He and East Java governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa are aiming to establish millennial job centres, where training will be given to equip graduates of high schools and vocational schools with the necessary skills to work or set up businesses in the creative industry.